Prologue To "King Arthur." Spoken By Mr Betterton.

A poem by John Dryden

Sure there's a dearth of wit in this dull town,
When silly plays so savourily go down;
As, when clipt money passes, 'tis a sign
A nation is not over-stock'd with coin.
Happy is he who, in his own defence,
Can write just level to your humble sense;
Who higher than your pitch can never go;
And, doubtless, he must creep, who writes below.
So have I seen, in hall of knight, or lord,
A weak arm throw on a long shovel-board;
He barely lays his piece, bar rubs and knocks,
Secured by weakness not to reach the box.
A feeble poet will his business do,
Who, straining all he can, comes up to you:
For, if you like yourselves, you like him too.
An ape his own dear image will embrace;
An ugly beau adores a hatchet face:
So, some of you, on pure instinct of nature,
Are led, by kind, to admire your fellow-creature.
In fear of which, our house has sent this day,
To insure our new-built vessel, call'd a play;
No sooner named, than one cries out, These stagers
Come in good time, to make more work for wagers.
The town divides, if it will take or no:
The courtiers bet, the cits, the merchants too;
A sign they have but little else to do.
Bets, at the first, were fool-traps; where the wise,
Like spiders, lay in ambush for the flies:
But now they're grown a common trade for all,
And actions by the new book rise and fall;
Wits, cheats, and fops, are free of wager-hall.
One policy as far as Lyons carries;
Another, nearer home, sets up for Paris.
Our bets, at last, would e'en to Rome extend,
But that the pope has proved our trusty friend.
Indeed, it were a bargain worth our money,
Could we insure another Ottoboni.
Among the rest there are a sharping set,
That pray for us, and yet against us bet.
Sure Heaven itself is at a loss to know
If these would have their prayers be heard, or no:
For, in great stakes, we piously suppose,
Men pray but very faintly they may lose.
Leave off these wagers; for, in conscience speaking,
The city needs not your new tricks for breaking:
And if you gallants lose, to all appearing,
You'll want an equipage for volunteering;
While thus, no spark of honour left within ye,
When you should draw the sword, you draw the guinea.

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